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Precious (2009) – Lee Daniels

May 12, 2010

Precious was a case that before I saw the film, my expectations went through somewhat of a rollercoaster ride. Towards the Oscar ceremony it was picking up a lot of speed and I was somewhat in a rush to see it. It was getting generally positive reviews from the few people I know that had seen it already, and then it picked up the lion’s share at the Independent Spirit Awards. Then, for some reason, maybe it was right after Oscars, I don’t recall exactly from whom, but I got the feeling that more people had seen it and the underwhelming responses were slowly rising. Nevertheless, I still wanted to see it, especially after I saw the DVD artwork. This was a film that from its posters to its DVD artwork had some very nice to at least interesting design, which is more often than not a mark of the actual film’s quality. This may sound shallow, but unfortunately intelligent graphic design is something that, if not rock bottom, is still definitely not something often considered worth spending time on in this business.

That being said, I wasn’t exactly sure why my feelings after the film ended were not exactly enthusiastic.  In other words, while watching the film, I wasn’t immediately turned off by it. I watched hoping for something that would differentiate this from the Dangerous Minds and Coach Carters besides its relatively raw and unveiled approach. Though the ending of the film did prove quite evocative and even moving for a bit, the 100 minutes before it lacked that complexity and humanistic penetration.

I will get to that moment later, but first: my qualms. When I mentioned in conversation that the film didn’t bring anything new to this well tread story, I was confronted with the opinion that no, it didn’t, but what it did was do it better. I can definitely agree with that, but only that. It is more accurate, but all that means to me is that the inspirational moments and where the film leaves the character are less superficial (as I said earlier, it is less veiled). As bad as this may sound, I found it troubling to sympathize with the character of Precious. I feel bad for people in that situation, surely, but what I felt here, or was unable to feel, is by way of the film’s fault. One main reason was the lack of complexity of her character. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say that Precious is deified in the film, but she is missing some serious flaws.  When she does certain things that “aren’t right” the film seems to justify them. For instance, when she steals a basket of chicken, it’s because she is hungry; surely something we can all identify with, but it’s also the way it’s filmed. She runs out and the film goes to some energetic and cool song.  And whenever she acts out violently, the film seems decidedly on her side. Such as when she throws things at her mother, hits the boys who tease her sexually as she passes, or the girl in her class who calls her fat. This is a problem that I wonder if is fleshed out more in the novel.

The other reason I didn’t exactly sympathize with this girl is just the plain fact that the film didn’t get me inside her head. Precious is a girl who has trouble articulating things, at least intelligently. I wanted to see this simple-ness used as a tool of evocation; sometimes the most visceral things are the way underdeveloped minds express their feelings. This is no secret in cinema; from Herzog’s moving Stroszek to even Tropic Thunder‘s spoof of this idea in “Simple Jack.”

Anyway, THAT is exactly why the mother character was the center of the film for me! She was villainized, surely, but we got to see a glimpse into this woman’s soul and trouble rather than just a sad face. Don’t get me too wrong, Gabourey Sibide did a fine, though not exceeding, job. She was able to convey a certain shyness brought on by sheer embarrassment, but Mo’nique was incredible. We saw a woman who did horrible things, things people know not to do yet she seemed unregretful, such a troubled character. And then at the end (the scene I mentioned earlier as the highlight) when she meets back up with Precious in the social worker’s cubicle, she explains herself. She explains why she let Precious get raped, and how she felt the first instance (when Precious was only an infant) and why she hates Precious for it. We know she is completely wrong for her abhorrence towards Precious, but we get why. Not that it is now excusable, but (without going too much into detail for the sake of ruining it) it shows us what love and acceptance drives someone to, and then what losing that love and acceptance can drive that same person to do. And when we, as the audience (not just of a film, but of a person), get to that point, we so suddenly stop judging them, and that is moving.

It is scenes like that that really make you wish the rest of the film matches it. I don’t want to say that the film was plagued at its subject matter, because it wasn’t. Rather, the direction and screenplay spent too much time trying to get into Precious’ head through crappy opaque dream sequences and not enough time of the poignancy that lie in a character like that’s thoughts or even poetic and subtle shot compositions that express her turmoil. When I say that this film differs from the rest in the pedigree because of simple accuracy, it’s almost makes it a worse experience just because of the disappointment. Luckily, we have actors like Mo’nique that come as close as they can at single-handedly saving a film; I can’t wait to see more from her.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 12, 2010 5:52 pm

    Peter,
    you have been very busy. Your blog is looking great. Hope that all is well.
    Best,
    Liliana

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